Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

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Countdown to Clearwater: The battle for jobs

The Phillies open spring training Wednesday in Clearwater, Fla. In advance of the first workout and the countdown to opening day, we take a daily look at the top storylines facing this club in camp.

Part 1 – Health

Part 2 – New faces

Part 3 – Charlie Manuel’s future

Part 4 – Young prospects

Part 5 – Defense

Today – Competition for jobs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Though many of the core spots in the lineup and on the pitching staff are filled, there will be some competition for jobs in this Phillies spring training camp.

A host of candidates will vie for what looks like just three openings in the bullpen. Actually there might only be two openings because team officials were very pleased with the work of Jeremy Horst last season and he could have an inside track on being the second lefty in the bullpen, joining Antonio Bastardo. In addition to Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams and Chad Durbin are set in the bullpen.

Relievers who will compete for jobs in the bullpen include Mike Stutes, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Raul Valdes, Joe Savery, Juan Cruz and others. We took a look at the bullpen situation a few days ago (see story).

Though newcomer John Lannan comes into camp with a competitor’s attitude -- he says he must win a job -- he lines up to be the fifth starter behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick. Barring injury, the rotation is set.

In addition to the bullpen, much of the competition for jobs will come in the outfield and on the bench.

The Phils figure to keep five outfielders. Ben Revere is a lock in centerfield. Laynce Nix might have a leg up on a job because he’d bring some lefthanded pop off the bench. John Mayberry Jr. seems to have a good chance of making the club because of his versatility and ability to hit lefthanded pitching. Without Mayberry, the Phils would scramble for help in centerfield if Revere went down. Mayberry plays both corner outfield spots and first base. He would have some value on this team’s bench.

Using this admittedly loose blueprint -- things can change quickly with a trade or an injury -- the Phils would seem to have two open outfield spots with three main contestants. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he hopes newcomer Delmon Young becomes the team’s everyday rightfielder not too long after opening day. (Young could be slowed early in camp as he continues to recover from offseason ankle surgery.)

Despite his hope to have Young’s bat in the lineup, Amaro warns: “He’s going to have to show us he can do it.” The GM was talking about Young’s ability to play rightfield, a position he has not played since 2007.

Young will be given every chance to do that once he’s cleared to play in games. That could come around mid-March. If Young can’t handle the job, Mayberry, Nix and Domonic Brown would all be in the picture there.

Coming into camp, however, Brown is expected to take part in what could be the spring’s best competition, a battle for the leftfield job, or maybe a slice of it, with Darin Ruf. It’s not out of the question that these two could form a platoon. That would force some adjustment of other outfield personnel.

Phillies officials aren’t under pressure to employ a Brown-Ruf platoon. Both players have minor-league options and can be sent to Triple A for more seasoning.

This isn’t Brown’s first spring tryout. Two years ago, he got off to a slow start then broke a bone in his hand as he lost the rightfield job to Ben Francisco. Francisco is a reminder that jobs can be won in spring training, but lost when the games count. His inability to lock down the job during the season led to the acquisition of Hunter Pence. Last year, Brown got a look in big-league camp, but club officials were committed to starting him at Triple A so he could continue his development.

Brown was a hot story in camp a couple of years ago. He’s been replaced as this year’s hot story by Ruf, who slugged his way from non-prospect to the major leagues in 2012. Ruf, 26, is a lifelong first baseman trying to make the conversion to leftfield. He made 29 starts at the position in Double A last season and six more in the majors in September. In the fall, he played the position in Venezuela, where he bashed 10 home runs to raise his total for the calendar year to 52. If Ruf hits, he will be difficult to keep off the team. Same for Brown, actually. That could be a nice competition to follow.

“There’s going to be some battling,” Amaro said. “We’re going to watch them closely. At some point they have to take the reins and let them decide for us whether they can do it.”

Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte, a speedy 22-year-old Venezuelan, is an outside candidate to win a spot in the outfield. Reports on his defense are good and that could enhance his chances if team officials believe they need an extra late-game defensive reinforcement.

In putting together their reserve infield corps, Phillies officials will have to decide whether to keep sure-handed Freddy Galvis or send him to the minors for regular playing time and at-bats. With an aging infield and a defensive question mark in Michael Young at third base, it’s not difficult to imagine team officials opting to keep Galvis in the majors, where he could help at three spots. Kevin Frandsen appears ticketed for a bench job, but veterans such as Yuniesky Betancourt and Pete Orr will also get looks.

MLB Notes: Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw placed on DL with lower-back strain

MLB Notes: Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw placed on DL with lower-back strain

MILWAUKEE -- Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw received an epidural injection for his sore lower back and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list, manager Dave Roberts said before Thursday's game in Milwaukee.

"Clayton yesterday got an epidural, so at this point we're going to put him on the disabled list," Robert said. "And use the All-Star break, obviously, with the four days. And in the coming days, we should know more how that epidural--how he responds to that--and that will give us some more direction."

Roberts did not know how long Kershaw is expected to be out, or who would make his scheduled start Friday at home against Colorado.

The three-time NL Cy Young winner is 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA this season. He lost his last start on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, giving up four runs and nine hits in six innings (see full story).

Giants: Bumgarner to hit for himself in AL park
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Madison Bumgarner will get to hit for himself -- even in an American League park.

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy says he plans to use his slugging pitcher instead of a designated hitter Thursday night when the Giants visit the Oakland Athletics. 

It will be the first time a team intentionally used a pitcher to hit instead of a DH since the Chicago White Sox allowed Ken Brett to do it in 1976. The Rays were forced to bat pitcher Andy Sonnanstine in 2009 because of a lineup card mix-up.

Bumgarner is batting .175 this season with two homers and five RBIs in 40 at-bats. He has nine homers in 183 at-bats the past three seasons, a rate that would lead to about 36 home runs if he had a full season as a hitter. Bumgarner has even made a public plea to enter into the All-Star Home Run Derby.

Marlins: Rodney acquired in trade with Padres
ATLANTA -- The Miami Marlins have acquired closer Fernando Rodney from San Diego to bolster their bullpen for the NL wild-card chase. 

Manager Don Mattingly has yet to express a lack of faith in A.J. Ramos, who has converted 33 saves opportunities since last season, so Rodney likely will serve as a setup man. Mattingly was expected to discuss the deal Thursday.

Miami traded minor league pitcher Chris Paddack to the Padres. The Marlins are one-half game ahead of two teams in the wild-card race. 

Rodney, 39, will join his seventh team and sixth since 2011. He has 17 saves with 0.31 ERA in 28 games this year.

The Marlins said Rodney was not expected to arrive for the first of four games against the Atlanta Braves.

Dodgers: Bud Norris acquired from Braves
MILWAUKEE -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have acquired veteran pitcher Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves.

The move Thursday comes on the same day the Dodgers said ace Clayton Kershaw will be placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a back injury

In the deal, the Dodgers also received minor league outfielder Dian Toscano, a player to be named and cash considerations from Atlanta for minor league pitchers Philip Pfeifer and Caleb Dirks.

Over his last five starts, Norris is 2-1 with a 2.15 ERA, 29 strikeouts and eight walks over 29 1/3 innings. Norris is in his eighth season and this year is 3-7 with a 4.22 ERA. The 31-year-old pitcher has also pitched for Houston, Baltimore and San Diego. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Braves in November (see full story).

Yankees: Sabathia's next start pushed back
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees will push CC Sabathia's next start back a day so he won't have to bat and run the bases in an interleague series at San Diego.

The Yankees will call up Chad Green from Triple-A to pitch Sunday against the Padres. Sabathia will start Monday against the Chicago White Sox.

Manager Joe Girardi said Thursday that he didn't want to risk injury for the 35-year-old left-hander.

The right-handed Green has made one start for New York this season, allowing six runs, four earned, on eight hits in four innings in a May 16 loss at Arizona. He pitched one scoreless inning in relief June 12 against Detroit before being sent down the next day.

The 25-year-old is 6-6 with a 1.54 ERA in 14 starts at Triple-A this season.

Resurgent Phillies have newfound confidence after solid road trip

Resurgent Phillies have newfound confidence after solid road trip

PHOENIX — When the Phillies left on their recently-completed road trip, the club seemed to hit rock bottom.

Falling to the Twins on June 22 marked the Phillies' ninth loss in a row in a losing streak that saw them get swept by the Diamondbacks at home. In a matter of one week, the light switch flipped, and the now the Phillies are an invigorated team filled with confidence and self-assurance.

Coming off a 5-4 trip, which included sweeping the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, a certain level of achievement is now realized. The question going forward: can the Phillies sustain that swagger found in the desert and rediscover their early-season success?

“This is a different team than when we left Philly,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “This team keeps responding. Look, we have 162 games, and there will be a lot of ups and downs.”

As the trip concluded, two factors emerged which could foreshadow the coming weeks. 

Perhaps the most noticeable was the bat of Cody Asche. After missing the first two months of the season with an oblique injury, Asche may have reached an important pinnacle with the Phillies. After being promoted to the majors as a third baseman and subsequently losing that job to Maikel Franco, Asche is now trying to make the transition to the outfield. In no uncertain terms, Asche has been told he needs to elevate his game, and quickly. Otherwise, there may not be a spot in the organization for this left-handed hitter.

Rapidly, Asche responded with a torrid June. After going 3 for 5 in the Wednesday finale against Arizona, Asche raised his batting average to .289. His numbers on the trip were frightening. He went 12 for 30 (.400) with six doubles and six RBIs. He drove in three runs alone in the 10-inning win on Wednesday afternoon.

Asche's bat wasn't the only one that came alive. When the Phillies left on June 20, the club was hitting .225. After the trip, the Phillies, as a team, are hitting .238.

“For us, I think the bubble was about to burst,” Asche, who hit third for the final road game, said. “It took a couple of guys to pop it and when that happened, it seemed like everyone followed. For me, I’m improving since my rehab start and Pete showed confidence by sticking me in the three-hole. Just plug me in anywhere and let’s get it going.”

Then, there’s the resurgence of Vince Velasquez.

Coming off the disabled list from a right biceps strain, Velasquez impressively shut down the Diamondbacks Monday night. Going five strong innings, he allowed five hits and no runs. On a strict pitch count, Mackanin took Velasquez out after 84 pitches, but indicated afterward his pitch count would likely increase.

Velazquez, brought over from Houston in the Ken Giles deal, started the season red hot. He allowed only five earned runs in his first five starts. Against San Diego on April 14, the 24-year-old fanned 16 Padres, the third highest in franchise history. Only Chris Short (with 18) and Art Mahaffey (17) struck out more hitters than Velazquez in a single game.

On Monday, Velasquez was back firing his fastball in the mid-90s, and projecting a high level of confidence. 

“My approach is, ‘Here’s my fastball, hit it,’” Velasquez said. “My arm feels great and I trust the training staff. Now, it’s up to me and my work ethic.”

Coming into play against Kansas City at home Friday night, the Phillies are 10 games under .500 and 12½ games behind the division-leading Nationals. If they plan to make a serious run, now is not a bad time. The combination of hot bats and the kind of residual effect Velasquez can have through the pitching staff should provide encouragement for the road ahead.

Phillies pitcher Matt Imhof loses eye in training accident

Phillies pitcher Matt Imhof loses eye in training accident

Phillies pitcher Matt Imhof, their second-round pick in 2014, lost his eye as a result of a freak training accident late last week.

A large piece of metal hit him during a postgame stretching routine, resulting in a fractured nose, two fractured orbital bones and loss of vision in Imhof's right eye.

Imhof, after multiple surgeries, explained what happened in an Instagram post Thursday.

As many of you know on Friday June 25th I had an accident. A large price of metal hit me in the head/eye resulting in a fractured nose, 2 fractured orbital bones, and most significantly, the loss of vision in my right eye. I was immediately taken to the ER and then transferred to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the #1 eye hospital in the world. That night, the doctors informed me that the damage to my eye was extreme and essentially that my eye had been crushed like a grape. The doctors told me they were going to do everything possible to reconstruct it but in all likelihood I would never regain sight in my right eye. The first surgery was somewhat a success but overall nothing had changed, so after discussions with my family and my doctors, it was decided that the best chance I had to live a normal life was to have my right eye removed and have a prosthetic one put in. This decision was not an easy one to make but to me it seemed like the right one so on Tuesday afternoon I went forward with the surgery. I'm currently still in Miami recovering from surgery but I'm doing well. This has been the hardest week of my life but I've had amazing support from my family and friends to help me get through it. For those who have been wishing me well, your support has not gone unnoticed and I appreciate everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers. I had the best doctors in the world doing their best work on me and for that I am grateful as well. Although this injury has been tough it could have been much worse...I'm lucky to still have vision in my left eye...I'm lucky that i didn't have brain damage...and I'm lucky to be surrounded my the most loving and understanding people in the world. I just wanted to write this message to let everyone know that even though I suffered some bad luck, I'm not dead. I'm gonna be alright, I'm gonna persevere, and I'm gonna succeed. It takes more than this to bring me down. Again thanks to everyone for the support .

A photo posted by Matt Imhof (@matt_imhof48) on

It's a terrible misfortune for Imhof, who was in his second full season with the High A Clearwater Threshers. The Phils drafted the 6-foot-5 lefty 47th overall out of Cal Poly in 2014, a round after selecting Aaron Nola. The 22-year-old has a 3.69 ERA in 173 career innings.